Thu. May 26th, 2022
The House impeached Andy Bautista ON October 17, 2018, two years within the Duterte administration. Bautista left the country quietly, and has not been heard of since. The magnitude of the many pending election-related cases in the courts and other agencies, and the allegations made by Jacinto Paras and Ferdinand Topacio, for which a finding of probable cause was issued by the House appear to have been simply disregarded. No single government agency acted to secure Bautista’s physical presence to answer for allegations made against him, or shed light on those made against the Comelec which he headed, not when he left, and not now when we grapple with the damning evidence of electoral anomalies and fraud.

Philippine authorities allege that Smartmatic “is compromised.” In the past, the software contractor had been linked with murky controversies and mysterious fortunes. The debacle casts a dark shadow over the 2022 Philippine elections.

ACCORDING to the Philippine Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC), the system of Smartmatic, the contractor of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), “is compromised” and not the server of the poll body. The tentative results of the CICC inquiry were disclosed on Friday in a hearing of the joint congressional oversight committee, as reported by The Manila Times.

Since 2004, Smartmatic’s election technology has been used in Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the United States. These activities have gone hand in hand with vocal controversies, particularly in Venezuela, the US and the Philippines.

Smartmatic’s PH debacles

Some three years ago, Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd called for an investigation into the alleged manipulation of the May 2016 poll results in the Philippines. The alleged irregularities surfaced with the contest for vice president.

Days after the May 2016 elections, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. alleged that Smartmatic had tampered with the votes, which cost him being elected vice president. Marcos attributed his narrow and controversial defeat to the Liberal Party’s Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo to discrepancies and irregularities in Comelec’s servers and data. Currently, Bongbong and vice-presidential hopeful Sara Duterte-Carpio dominate Philippine election surveys, with Robredo far behind.

The debacle about Comelec’s data was soon linked with Andres “Andy” Bautista, a constitutional legal expert, who was appointed Comelec chairman in 2015 by the late president Benigno Aquino 3rd. In 2010-2015, Bautista had served as Aquino’s chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), whose primary mandate had been to recover “ill-gotten wealth” accumulated by Bongbong Marcos’ father, Ferdinand Marcos.

Yet, the PCGG itself has been implicated in several corruption scandals. One of these involves its chairman Bautista. The story goes back to 2017, when his estranged wife Patricia Paz Bautista released information on his unexplained wealth.

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Making P1B while ‘fighting corruption’

Following his wife’s disclosures, Bautista announced he would resign as Comelec chairman hoping to get out in time. But the House of Representatives voted to impeach him. Shunning the House and the Senate committee subpoena, Bautista “disappeared.” In early 2018, he surfaced in the US claiming he could not travel, due to ill health.

Documents presented by his wife to the National Bureau of Investigation indicated that her husband had a boxful of bank books and documents for undeclared wealth worth P1 billion, or $20 million.

In May 2021, the Court of Appeals affirmed the findings of the National Privacy Commission that Bautista had violated the Data Privacy Act in the April 2016 data breach, just a month before the elections. The breach placed the personal information of millions of Filipino voters at risk.

In 2016, when the Pandora Papers exposed an alleged shadow financial system for the world’s richest, it also featured Bautista and his Baumann Enterprises Ltd., registered in the British Virgin Islands in 2010, the same year when Aquino made him the chairman of the PCGG to fight corruption. The offshore company was reincorporated in 2017, when Bautista got in hot water. It was not declared in his official Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

When Bautista was officially investigating Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth, he was unofficially accumulating his own ill-gotten wealth.

But if the Smartmatic Philippine story is Kafkaesque, its own story is even more so.

Smartmatic’s odd origins

Over two decades ago, three engineers, led by Antonio Mugica, began to develop a new election technology in Venezuela. After the controversial 2000 US election, they saw an opportunity. With funds from private investors, they incorporated in Delaware in 2000. One of the investors was Jorge Massa Dustou, Venezuela’s richest man married to the sister of Gustavo Cisneros, a billionaire and Dustou’s former boss. Reportedly, Cisneros bankrolled the failed 2002 Venezuelan coup d’état attempt against Hugo Chávez.

When Mugica’s company got funds from the Chavez government, the US began to investigate Smartmatic’s links to the Venezuelan government. And so, the software contractor quickly moved its headquarters to London in 2012. Two years later, in a murky reorganization, CEO Mugica and British Lord Mark Malloch-Brown launched SGO Corp. Ltd. The holding company’s key asset was Smartmatic.

Malloch Brown’s Philippine ties stem from the mid-1980s when the former Economist journalist became the lead international partner at the Sawyer-Miller Group, presidential hopeful Corazon Aquino’s PR agency. After a poll controversy, Cory Aquino won, but tightly, and Malloch Brown formed a close relationship with the thankful family dynasty.

Cooperation was re-ignited ahead of the 2010 elections, when Benigno S. Aquino 3rd became the first Philippine president whose votes were counted by Smartmatic despite persistent allegations about systemic vulnerabilities.

In July 2015, Malloch Brown returned to the Philippines. Subsequently, Comelec’s Bautista awarded Smartmatic contracts at a total of P2.6 billion in the 2016 election.

But Smartmatic was a small stepping stone for Malloch Brown’s big ambitions.

Soros and his protégé

It is the interplay of public agendas and private gains that seems to be the common denominator of Malloch Brown’s activities with billionaire speculator George Soros, starting with the Brit’s Refugees International which focused on commodity-rich poor countries in which the West and Soros had “strategic interests” in the 1990s.

Malloch Brown also joined the Soros advisors, ahead of the devastating conflict when the billionaire financed agencies cooperating with US authorities, such as Philip Goldberg — later US ambassador to the Philippines until his departure and alleged regime change plan in fall 2016, as The Manila Times reported at the time.

During the 1990s, Malloch Brown rented his apartment from Soros while working on UN assignments in New York. From the World Bank, he moved on to serve as the head of the UN Development Program and Kofi Annan’s deputy. Soros expanded his projects with Malloch Brown and the UN, particularly in Eastern Europe, where his Open Society Institute shaped the West’s post-Cold War agendas.

In 2002, Malloch Brown suggested that the UN and Soros’ Open Society work together to fund humanitarian functions, despite associated moral hazards. In exchange, Soros’ Quantum Fund in 2007 appointed Malloch Brown as VP and vice chairman of the Open Society. Yet, the Brit had no prior investment experience. Afterwards, he became chairman of the US-based FTI Consulting, one of the largest financial consulting firms, whose restructuring business made fortunes from the 2008 Great Recession.

When Malloch Brown stepped down as chairman of SGO in December 2020, he was made the president of Soros’ Open Society Foundation. As Smartmatic’s chairman, he was succeeded by Peter Vance Neffenger, a US Coast Guard admiral and President Barack Obama’s head of transportation security and a member of Biden’s transition team.

Trained in Harvard and the US Naval War College, Neffenger was seen as the right man to protect elections worldwide (and to sell Smartmatic to skeptical Americans).

Smartmatic’s origins are overshadowed by the election software contractor’s odd associations and long trail of controversies, moral hazards, conflicts of interest and unexplainable fortunes in the name of “good governance.”

Perhaps sometimes those who speak loudest for “public interest, freedom and democracy” are but façades for private interests and oligarchies derailing the very democracy they purport to serve.

Electronic election software has great demand and multifaceted vulnerabilities.

READ: Why is fugitive ex COMELEC chair Andy Bautista still at large?                                                           

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